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Obama chides Republicans on campaign finance

The president urges GOP senators to cross party lines and support legislation requiring disclosure of big corporate donors.

July 26, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro and Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — On the eve of a crucial Senate vote, President Obama pushed Republicans on Monday to cross party lines and support campaign finance legislation in yet another White House foray into congressional politics.

The legislation was drafted in response to a Supreme Court ruling in January that loosened the century-old restriction on corporate political advertising, freeing businesses to spend huge sums on the midterm congressional races.

Republicans have long held that corporate campaign giving is a free-speech right that must be protected.

Obama used a Rose Garden appearance — as he did in a similar speech last week about extending unemployment benefits — to cast Republicans as an obstacle to common-sense campaign finance legislation.

"You would think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections would not be a partisan issue," Obama said. The bill, known as the DISCLOSE Act, would require the identities of corporate donors to be made known.

"But of course this is Washington in 2010," Obama said, focusing blame on Republicans.

With the midterm elections drawing closer, Obama is stepping up his criticism of congressional Republicans, a strategy intended to portray clear choices facing voters.

The decision to employ Obama as his party's campaigner in chief comes after congressional Democrats complained in closed-door meetings this month that Obama must do more to counter a Republican stonewall.

With the Democrats' control of Congress in jeopardy, Obama has heeded his party's concerns. He has used his weekly radio address and public appearances to brand Republicans as out of step with mainstream voters.

Republicans fired back in characteristic unison on Monday, arguing that with an ailing economy, the president's emphasis on campaign finance reform was misguided.

"The mere suggestion that a bill designed to save politicians' jobs should take precedent over helping millions of Americans find work is an embarrassing indictment of Democrats' priorities," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, who is expected to lead a filibuster Tuesday.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in a case involving Citizens United, a nonprofit group that produced a film critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, that corporations, like individuals, could give freely to political campaigns.

The case has long been a concern for the president. Obama chastised the decision during his State of the Union address this year, a rare public rebuke that left justices visibly upset and drew criticism as an executive-branch encroachment on the independent judiciary.

The DISCLOSE Act was developed at Obama's urging and would require corporate chief executives to stand by their broadcast advertisements, much as candidates put their names to their ads. Corporations, unions and other big donors also would have to disclose contributions to third party groups.

The House passed the bill in June after approving an adjustment, sought by the National Rifle Assn., that excluded large groups from some disclosure requirements.

Campaign finance reform groups say that even with the exemption, the bill provides for more disclosure.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the bill's author and chairman of the House Democrats' campaign committee, said that seeing Obama backing up the legislative agenda gives confidence to candidates on the campaign trail.

"What you're seeing now is a very clear description of the choices people are facing," Van Hollen said.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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